Definitions

Adapted from The Language of Gender by Justin Clark, Gender Spectrum

Gender:

Adult definition - We often think of gender along a binary: girl vs. boy. That is because gender is socially constructed and represents the culture we are in. In reality, gender is a spectrum. It is a complex umbrella term for that encompasses gender identity, gender expression, and gender attribution. Our gender is not determined by our chromosomes, hormones, reproductive organs or external genitalia. Our gender does not determine what we like and dislike nor does it determine who we love. Gender and sex are not the same thing.

 

Kid-friendly definition - Gender is something adults came up with to sort people into groups. Many people think there are only two genders, girls and boys, but this is not true. There are many ways to be a boy, a girl, both or neither. 

Gender Identity:

Adult definition - This is how someone identifies their own gender based on their own sense of self. Someone's gender identity is how they see themselves and call themselves and how they want others to see and call them. This is often communicated through the use of pronouns. Many people who have a a female gender identity use "she/her/hers". Many people who have a male gender identity use "he/him/his". Some people who are transgender, gender creative or other use "they/them/theirs" pronouns. Gender identity often develops between 18 months and 3 years of age. A person's gender identity might match the sex they were assigned at birth (see cisgender), or it may differ from the one they were assigned at birth (see transgender). A person's sex does not determine their gender identity. Some gender identities may be fluid, and some people may identify as agender. 

Kid-friendly definition - This is how you see yourself and want others to see you. You are the only one who can say your gender identity, it is yours. Sometimes it matches what the doctor said when you were born, and sometimes it does not. There is no wrong way to identify your gender. 

Gender Expression:

Adult definition - This is the way you express your gender to the world. This is often done through your clothing, hair style, your behavior, and your voice. Gender expression is intimately linked with the culture in which you live and how they perceive various genders. Your gender expression may differ from your gender identity. For example, someone might identify as a girl and use "she", but wear clothing that is viewed in our culture as stereotypically "masculine" or "androgynous". The way someone expresses their gender does not indicate their sexual orientation. Gender expression is often the first indication we get about someone's gender, leading to gender attribution (see below). 

Kid-friendly definition - This is the way you show everyone your gender. When you make choices about the clothes you wear, the way you talk and what you do with your hair, you are sharing who you are with other people. It is important to remember that people have genders, things do not. That means that just because someone has short hair that doesn't make them a boy, and just because someone is wearing a dress, it doesn't mean they are a girl. We all get to make choice about what we like, what we wear and what we do. 

Gender Attribution:

Adult definition - This is the way the world perceives your gender. Sometimes it matches your gender identity, and sometimes it does not. This is important because it ties together the previous nuances of gender. Say for example, that someone was born and assigned female at birth. At a young age, this person identified as male. This child is now in elementary school and uses they/them pronouns. They have short hair, wear mostly pants and shorts with sneakers. People walking by might attribute the gender "male" to this child, or the gender "female". Either way, gender attribution is another important part of the complex nature of gender because it serves as a reminder that human beings are quick to assign labels to people. 

Kid-friendly definition - This is the way other people see your gender. Sometimes they might make guesses

 

that are not true. This is not because something is wrong with you, it is because they don't know who you

 

really are yet. One way to let them know what your gender is would be to tell them, but you don't have to do

 

that if you don't want to. 

Assigned Gender/Sex:

Adult definition - The sex assigned by a doctor upon birth based on the appearance of external genitalia. Sex also includes chromosomes, hormones and reproductive organs. There are not only two possibilities, but many variations are possible (see Intersex below). The assigned sex at birth does not determine a person's gender identity or expression. It also doesn't determine their sexual orientation. Many people, however, incorrectly conflate sex and gender. They often assume from the assigned sex what they baby's gender will be. In fact, this is so engrained in our culture that when a baby is born, we say "it's a boy" or "it's a girl" just based on looking at external genitalia. Other examples are when people throw "gender reveal" parties or paint a baby's room based on their child's external genitalia. This is their sex, not their gender. Only the child will know their gender. 

Kid-friendly definition - When people are born, the doctor looks at your body and decides if you are a boy or a girl. This is confusing because just looking at your body parts doesn't actually tell someone what your gender is, only you know that. Some people grow up and their gender matches the one their were assigned at birth. Other people grow up and their gender does not match the one the doctors gave them when they were born. 

Intersex: 

Adult definition - Some babies are born with external genitalia, chromosomes and/or hormones that do not fit perfectly into either "female" or "male". This is because there are not only two possibilities! For some intersex babies, the doctor or the family decides the babies biological sex. Sometimes they get it right, and sometimes they do not. 

Kid-friendly definition - Our bodies have lots of parts that help us work just right. Some of those things are on the outside of our bodies, and some of them are on the inside. Bodies come in lots of different ways. There are not only two ways for bodies to be, so sometimes a body isn't just "male" or "female". We call these people intersex. 

Transgender:

Adult definition - Transgender can be used as an umbrella term to describe people who fall outside of the gender binary. More specifically, transgender, or trans, refers to a person whose gender identity does not match the sex they were assigned at birth. There is not one way to be transgender. Some people transition socially, changing their pronouns. Some people use hormone replacement therapy to help their bodies match how they feel. Some people undergo gender reassignment surgery. Doing, or not doing, any or all of these things does not determine a transgender identity. Because gender and sexual orientation are two different things, people who are transgender might identify as straight, queer, gay, lesbian, bisexual or other. 

Kid-friendly definition - When babies are born, doctors look at their bodies and assign them a gender based on the body parts they see. Sometimes kids grow up and feel like the gender the doctor assigned to them. this is called cisgender. Sometimes kids grow up and they realize that their gender identity does not match what they were assigned at birth. This is called transgender. There are lots of ways to be transgender and there is no one right way to do it!

Cisgender: 

Adult definition - People who are cisgender have a gender identity that matches their assigned birth sex. They may have a gender expression that is not stereotypically associated with their gender, but they continue to associate with the gender associated with the biological sex they were assigned at birth. 

Kid-friendly definition - (same definition as above) When babies are born, doctors look at their bodies and assign them a gender based on the body parts they see. Sometimes kids grow up and feel like the gender the doctor assigned to them. this is called cisgender. Sometimes kids grow up and they realize that their gender identity does not match what they were assigned at birth. This is called transgender. There are lots of ways to be transgender and there is no one right way to do it!

Gender Binary:

Adult definition - This is a construct our society has created that places boys in one section and girls in the other. It is explicitly and implicitly reinforced through clothing, toys, books and other forms of media. The premise of the gender binary is that there are only two genders, female and male, and that everyone fits into one or the other. In our culture there are also behaviors, actions and objects that are associated with either side of the binary. Gender stereotypes arise from the gender binary. The binary is limiting and most people do not fit entirely on one side or the other. 

Kid-friendly definition - Some people think that there are only two ways to be: a boy or a girl. This is the binary. "Bi" means two. In the gender binary, there are things that boys are supposed to wear, like, say and do and there are things that girls are supposed to wear, like, say and do. We call these stereotypes. The thing about stereotypes is they are often not true, because everyone is different. The gender binary tells people that they have to be one or the other. 

Gender Spectrum: 

Adult definition - This is the opposite of the gender binary. Instead of viewing gender as two poles, this view of gender is more fluid. For an excellent representation of the gender spectrum, see "The Gender Unicorn" resource below. A recent study by GLAAD found that 12% of Millenials identify as transgender or gender non-conforming and are less likely to use binary words to describe their gender or sexual orientation (see full survey here). Youth are becoming less and less likely to proscribe to the rigid limitations of the gender binary.

 

Kid-friendly definition - The gender spectrum is the opposite of the gender binary. A spectrum is a long line, or some people think of it as a circle. This gives lots more spaces for different people to exist. Instead of just boy and girl, people can be both, neither, or anywhere in between. 

Gender Creative: 

Adult definition - There are many terms for people whose gender identity or expression falls outside of the gender binary. On this website I chose gender creative because I appreciate the agency and optimism that "creative" conotates. It suggests that gender is fluid, flexible and up to you. Some people use terms such as gender expansive, gender nonconforming, bigender, agender, neutrois, gender neutral, non-binary, or genderfluid, genderqueer (although this one is usually reserved for adults). Again, a person's gender identity is up to them to define and name and is not linked to their assigned sex, gender expression or sexual orientation.

Kid-friendly definition - There are many ways to be. Some people identify as a boy, a girl, both, neither or something in between. Everyone decides their own gender, and some people identify as gender creative. This might mean they identify as gender creative. Someone who is gender creative might use "he" and "him" pronouns, paint his nails and wear dresses. Or perhaps someone who is gender creative might use "they" and "them" pronouns and like to build forts, eat ice cream and play with their friends. That is the great thing about being gender creative, it's up to you! 

Pronouns:

Adult definition - Pronouns are a part of speech used to refer to a person when you are not using their name. In our culture people have genders and objects do not, and pronouns are assigned a gender. "She", "her" and "hers" are referred to as "female pronouns" and are often used by people who identify as female. "He", "him" and "his" are referred to as "male pronouns" and are often used by people who identify as male. This leaves only two options and places people along the binary, so there are also gender neutral pronouns. One example is "they/them/theirs". Some people who are gender creative or trans choose to go by "they". It is preferable to ask someone's pronoun instead of assuming it. In addition, the terminology "preferred pronoun" implies a choice or alternative. When asking for pronouns, you can simply say "What are your pronouns?". One way to create inclusive environments is to have everyone record their pronouns on name tags, or share them at the beginning of a class or meeting. Keep in mind that pronouns may change!

Kid-friendly definition - When we are talking about someone, we use their name. We also use something called pronouns. Pronouns are words like: "she", "he" and "they". Which pronouns do you want people to use when they talk about you? Practice asking someone else what their pronouns are. 

More Resources with Definitions